Tuesday, September 28, 2004

An Epochal Struggle

History is a series of wars. Some are minor, like those concerning border disputes or something material like land or wealth, and some are major, like those concerning ideas or principles. Of the major wars, some are yet more significant -- they are epochal, marking significant changes in the way human civilization is organized and the course of the international debate over mankind's proper ends. In the cold war, the forces of ideological communism fought those of liberty and democracy, and the superior organizing philosophy won the day. In World Wars I and II, we faced a choice between fascism and democracy. The American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars sounded the death knell for divine right monarchy and ushered in a revival of Republican ideals like those of early Rome. Each major conflict had at its heart an idea, and each war saw an idea gain dominance or die.

We are now in another epochal struggle, one that has been brewing for quite some time. It is at once ideological and religious, a clash of cultures. The West made its choice between Republican ideals and divine right dictatorship -- it took two centuries of warfare and millions of lives, but we chose freedom. Islam has not yet made a firm choice between Islamist zealotry and some other, more peaceful vision for the future of the Islamic world. This current struggle is epochal for both ourselves and the Islamic world because we supply the alternative to Islamist dogma: Republican ideals and liberty. And the enemy, Islamist extremism, has adopted tactics and seeks WMDs which, for the first time in three centuries, put them on a more level playing field with the vastly powerful West. They seek victory by exploiting what they believe is the relative weakness of the West's values. Just as communists believed that Western parliamentarism would eventually collapse in on itself, Islamists believe that our republican ideals will eventually undermine our will to fight and prove to the world the superiority of their dogma.

Because it is epochal, the winner of this struggle will determine the course of human civilization for a long time to come. If we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, give up on planting democracy in the heart of the middle east, and cower behind what will inevitably prove inadequate border security, they will feed on our weakness. They will recruit millions to their cause by showcasing their strength -- they who forced back the mighty United States, torch-bearer of Western Civilization. Terror attacks will increase, WMDs will be deployed against us, Islam will fall to its worst variant, and our world will enter a very dark age. If we win, we have a chance of cementing the dominance of liberty and republicanism over yet another set of wrong and hateful ideas. A new era of prosperity and peace could begin for the most troubled region of the world as democratic reformers gain moral courage and the Islamists lose recruits to the cause of liberty.

But the picture is not all rosy. History is a series of wars, and there is no reason to believe millenia of conflict will cease after this particular struggle. More epochal wars will come. More ideological enemies will rise up against liberty and republican government. The best we can hope for in this imperfect world is to keep fighting and keep winning the peace, to assure the dominance of our ideas and the security of our way of life. China presents a possible future threat as it grows in power but fails to liberalize, threatening the democracy on Taiwan. Europe itself, as it unites, may become a rival, advocating a very different kind of democracy than our own. But we must concentrate on the here and now: The goal for us should be to win this battle so that we survive to fight the next enemy. We must never give up in the cause of freedom.


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